Sony Releases System Update 4.10 for PlayStation 3

Sony released new firmware for the PlayStation 3 today.  System Update version 4.10 (not yet mentioned on the update website as of this writing) claims browser improvements as its biggest feature, so I decided to give the browser a test run after I installed the new firmware (in order to be able to log on to the PlayStation Network).

Admittedly, the browser has come a long way since it was introduced on the PS3.  It is now comparable to a good mobile browser, which is to say that it's not perfect, but it's more than adequate for rendering most web sites.  Does it render every page perfectly?  No, but it's about as good as most smartphones or tablets.

A rendering error in the PS3 browser.Most of the problems in rendering revolve around fonts.  The CSS layouts are presented well enough, but the limited selection and sizes of fonts in the PS3's repertoire give it fewer options for finding the perfectly-sized font to fit the designers vision of how the web page should appear.  As a result, some text sections overflow their boundaries or don't line up exactly where they should be.

The browser does have a plug-in that supports some Flash content, but not all of it.  Flash animations and transitions worked fine in my testing, but Flash video did not.  This means that Flash-heavy sites like Cartoon Network will produce mixed results.  The more complicated or recent the Flash content, the less likely it is to work.

Of course all of this belies the question of whether browsing on a PS3 is worthwhile.  I don't use my console for surfing the web.  If I'm on the sofa, it usually because I want to watch something else on TV.  In that case, I would use a second screen like a smartphone or tablet to do some light surfing without taking myself away from the show.  And if I need to do any heavy lifting on the web, I want a computer with a full keyboard.  Unlike video content, web pages aren't any more appealing to me at forty inches than they are at thirteen inches.

Furthermore, web pages on the PS3 load slowly.  This is likely because the PS3 was optimized for pushing polygons and doing linear algebra and vector arithmetic, not network transmission.  And trying to type on the PS3's onscreen keyboard is a chore.  As a result, I probably could bounce through a series of web pages faster with a good smartphone than with the PS3.

Apple set a new standard for what mobile web browsing could be with the original iPhone and other non-computer browser makers have been playing catch-up ever since.  As an additional feature that's included with the cost of admission to PS3 ownership, the browser works pretty well.  But it is a questionable replacement for people who are likely to have better options for surfing at their disposal.